Month: August 2016

A Happy Meal Education


Every once in a while I venture away from campus at lunch time to grab a quick bite.  Don’t get me wrong… we have great food here at Belmont University, but sometimes you just crave the finer things, you know… like a Big Mac.  Today was one of those days.  I joined the other 68 million people around the world who ate at the Golden Arches.  (Not kidding.  That’s the average daily total.)  We have one of those fancy drive-thrus here in Nashville that allows people to form two lines when ordering their food.  I’m not sure it speeds things up at all, but it gives the perception of doing so.  I took the lane less traveled in the hope that it would make all the difference.


After ordering, there is always that awkward moment of wondering which car should blend back into line first.   There was a gap in the line and so I eased ahead.  And then I saw him coming…  the guy behind me got out of his car, walked up beside me, and asked me to roll down the window.  First, let me describe his car.  Most of it was dark blue.  All of it was dented.  The muffler was held on by a wire and it smoked like those mosquito trucks that used to drive around my neighborhood when I was a kid.  He had to open the door to order his food because the driver’s window had long been sealed up with duct-tape.  To be honest, he didn’t look any better.  His clothes were filthy, his teeth (what was left of them) were yellow, and his hair was grey.  His ensemble was highlighted by an over-stretched tank top.


With a little fear and trepidation, I rolled down the window.  He began… “I’m not asking you for anything, I don’t need any money, I just wanted to tell you about how these lines work.”  He wasn’t mad.  He wasn’t belligerent.  He wasn’t stressed.  He just honestly wanted me to know how things work.  I wanted to tell him that this was not my first visit to McDonalds.  “Not my first rodeo” kind of thoughts were going through my head.  But I let him say his piece, thanked him for letting me know, and then I moved ahead to the window to pay.  The employee wanted to know if the stranger wanted money or if he had bothered me.  I told her not at all… “he was just trying to be helpful.”


We can learn a few things when we choose to be students of life.  No, I didn’t need instruction on how to navigate the drive-thru lane.  But I did allow myself to learn a few things.  First, sometimes people are made to feel valued when we extend the simple courtesy of listening to them.  Second, relationships based on an exchange of ideas are much better than those filled with fear, anger, and resentment.  Third, we can learn from most anyone else if we assume the posture of a learner and not a know-it-all.  Fourth, sometimes we need to move out of our comfortable, cloistered lives in order to be reminded of a greater world filled with people very different from ourselves, but equally valued in the eyes of God.


One other McDonald’s fun fact… there is only one place in the lower 48 states that is more than 100 miles away from a McDonald’s.  It’s a barren plain somewhere in South Dakota.  Wow, I’m glad I live in Nashville…

Room 220



“Do you know where room 220 is located?”  I’ve been getting that question a lot these days.  The Fall semester has begun and a lot of students are struggling to be in the right place at the right time.  Room 220 is just a few steps from my office.  A surprising number of students have stopped in front of my open door to ask for directions.  I don’t mind the interruption… I like meeting the students.  But here’s where the confusion starts.  Room 220, for whatever reason, is not labeled.  There is no number on the door frame, no sign on the wall.  The entire classroom building recently went through an extensive renovation and someone simply overlooked the small, but important detail, making the room a little hard to find.


But let me tell you about Room 220.  It has to be the most impressive classroom space on the campus.  To say that it is “state of the art” is to undersell its splendor.  It is the centerpiece of the Massey School of Business.  First, the 2 side walls, along with the back wall, are all clear glass.  Students can see out and visitors can see in.  The room seats 30 and each student station has a large computer screen, keyboard, and input slots for nearly any device.  Unlike the stiff, wooden chairs you might expect, the students sit in nice, reclining cloth desk chairs.  The front wall is equally impressive.  There are two large presentation screens which can be controlled by the professor’s station or by any of the student stations he/she might choose.  There is also a constantly updated screen which highlights world business activities of the day including charts, photos, news stories and graphs.  Finally, at the top of the front wall is a 20-foot long digital, moving, readout of stock market prices.  It’s impressive.  Students might have trouble finding the classroom on the first day of class, but never the second day…


There is a place known as the Kingdom of God.  And although it unfolds all around us as Spirit-filled people enflesh the Gospel message, it is also a coming realm filled to overflowing with God’s presence and glory.  Human attempts to describe it will fall pitifully short.  It is a place where all wrongs are made right, all injuries are healed, all transgressions are forgiven.  It is a place of peace, acceptance, joy, inclusion, hope, and abundant grace.  If only people could find their way…


I finally gave in to the constant parade of students and stood in the hallway directing traffic.  There was joy in helping the overwhelmed find their way.  It’s also how the Kingdom is built.  We finally overcome our complacency, our apathy, and our anxieties and we say to those who are struggling with life… “Here it is!  This is the place!”  We stand at the crossroads where lives and destinies are decided and we point to the Great Kingdom.  At least that is our calling.  God forgive our silence, our casual attitude, and our appalling lack of involvement.  The Kingdom is worth finding.  The story is worth telling.  Why let someone languish when Room 220 is just down the hall?

It’s move-In day and I’m a little jealous…




Here at Belmont University where I direct a leadership program, it’s move-in day for all the freshman class.  By the end of the day about 1800 new students will inhabit the campus.  That’s 1800 new stories to be written, 1800 new minds to teach, 1800 cars to unload.  They have a system here on move-in day at Belmont where upperclassmen greet families as they pull into the driveway in front of the various dorms.  Literally within seconds, the car is unloaded and all the stuff is hauled up to the appropriate living space by countless volunteers.  It really is quite remarkable… maybe a little mind-boggling to the parents who are already worried about separation anxiety who watch the task of unloading unfold before their eyes.


It’s been almost 4 decades since I moved onto campus as a college freshman.  I still remember the moment and admittedly, I’m a little jealous of those who are just starting this experience.  I’m jealous of the opportunities they have, the future that is theirs to grasp, the experiences about to unfold.  I’m jealous of the new friendships they will forge for life and for the ways in which their world-view, faith, and intellect are about to explode.  For most, college is an exhilarating experience and my hopeful prayer is that these students will be safely sheltered, carefully taught, and wonderfully challenged.


I met a family on campus yesterday who were getting their bearings so that the chaordic (chaos & order) process of moving in wouldn’t catch them off guard.  They flew in from California to help their only child, a daughter, get settled.  She looked excited, anxious, fearful, and a bit overwhelmed.  That’s got to be hard.  It’s a long way from home and family.  I gave her my business card and told her, “If you begin to feel a little overwhelmed or you miss home a little too much, come find me.  I will make sure you get connected and find some folks to meet.”  It can be a big, lonely world and sometimes having people to join you in the journey will help.


The feeling of being overwhelmed by life doesn’t apply just to college students.  Let’s be honest… it’s a big, mean, lonely world.  Maybe the key for our survival is learning how to invent community around our lives.  It doesn’t just happen.  It is a very intentional process.  We forge friendships.  We create dialogue.  We initiate conversations.  There is a risk and reward.  But at the end of the day, it’s the sense of community that holds the key to our survival.  You may find it at your work, or in your neighborhood, or at your church, or at the gym.  We were not made to be lone-rangers.  We were created for community.


So if you see a lost student this week, point them in the right direction.  If you see a lost soul, offer them a moment.  And if you find yourself struggling with this big world, seek out community where you can connect.  It’s how we survive.

When we become free…


I had a conversation this week with a friend who is a rabbi in a reformed Jewish tradition.  We think alike about many things while at the same time we have disagreements that reach to the core of our identities if we were willing to let such thoughts escape.  But we don’t.  We talk of things we hold dear, things we hold in common, things that unite rather than divide us.  It’s better that way.  There is a gentle grace when civility and respect become the ground rules of conversations and relationships.  We joke.  We laugh.  We speak of critically important matters.


I asked him about the weight of oppression and prejudice that are leveled at him because of his faith and heritage.  He admitted that he has always felt the burden of hatred that is shouldered by those who live in a minority.  The fact that it is a “way of life” doesn’t make the matter any easier to bear.  He told me that he often chooses to suffer in silence rather than burden others with the angry hatred that comes his way.  When I asked, “How often do you get hate mail?”  His response was poignantly brief… “every day.”  He told me that his silence is one of the ways that he protects his wife and family from the brutality of misguided and harmful thought.


Why does anyone have to live like that?  Why does anyone have to feel the constant sting of hatred?  Why do we let oppression still rage in our land?  Why are most of us not engaged in efforts of reconciliation and justice?  I have to believe that until the “pronouns” get changed, nothing gets changed.  As long as we talk of those whose faith, race, gender, or ethnicity is different from ours as being “them” and not “us,” we remain stuck in a dangerous place.  Until we begin to affirm the inescapable and powerful links of our common humanity, we will never feel that “we” are suffering.  It will still be “them.”


There is only one planet to share and only one destiny toward which we are drawn.  The plight of every man must become my plight.  The suffering of every woman must become my suffering.  The oppression of every minority must become my oppression.  For until I join myself to the pain, I will never ceaselessly strive to make it better.  I cannot afford the luxury of a privileged posture which keeps me from addressing the problems of “my” world.  None of us can fully enjoy the euphoria of freedom until we help bear the responsibility of lifting oppression from the shoulders of others.


My mind remembers the words spoken in 1968 by Edward Kennedy in praise of his recently-slain brother Robert… “My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.” (Memorial Service for Robert F Kennedy – June 8, 1968 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York)


Would that such words could be spoken of us… that we saw darkness and tried to illumine it, saw hatred and tried to reconcile it, saw oppression and tried to lift it, saw injustice and tried to solve it.  It is long past time for us to begin talking and living in better ways. It is one thing to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  It is quite another to give expression to that prayer.  For those of us who live in the grace of freedom, may we be willing to become shackled to the responsibility of working to set free, those who remain the prisoners of oppression.



Most of us have a worldview shaped by the experiences we have had, the places where we live, the people surrounding us, and the media that we choose to let in.  My worldview is seen through the lens of a middle-aged, white, southern American.  I grew up in an upper-middle class family.  I lived in a safe and comfortable home.  I went to school in an environment where academics were stressed and where minorities were not well represented.  Like many others, my worldview could have been very predictable.  I could have made it through life with few people who looked, acted, or thought differently from me.  Such a limited viewpoint could have handicapped me in a lot of ways.


But my worldview has been broadened along the way.  I went to college (thanks to the generosity of my parents.)  I learned about important subjects and all about college life.  My mind was exposed to learning, to books, and to great thinkers.  After college I went to Graduate School where my world continued to expand.  I studied hard and learned much.


But education was not the only experience that broadened my perspective.  I got married and raised 3 kids.  Certainly my perspective broadened.  My wife, who understands far more than me about many things, has helped me to grow in a lot of ways.  When I raised my children I thought the wisdom would always flow in one direction… from me to them.  But I quickly discovered that they had much to teach me about being a father, role model and provider.


I have also benefited from the interaction over the past 3 decades of being a pastor to a lot of people.  Being a minister helped me to form opinions, challenge biases, and stretch my understanding about many things.  I have also traveled the world.  I have spent a lot of time in the third world in places like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the developing areas of Brasilia.  I have seen real poverty, need, and hunger.  I have seen exciting world capitals like London, Rome, Madrid, and Zagreb.  I’ve traveled to places like Rio de Janeiro, to the Andes Mountains of Ecuador, strolled the streets of Munich and walked the beautiful beaches of Hawaii.


With every relationship, every learning opportunity, every place visited, I have opened my life to a greater world.  I don’t see the world and its people the way I might have once seen it.  I hope that I have learned a little more about tolerance, a little more about acceptance, a little more about the value and worth of each person.  I hope that I have learned more about how my resources can benefit those in need.  And I’m not through looking yet.  I have windows yet unopened and thoughts yet unexplored.  But here’s what I have figured out along the way… perspective takes intentionality.  We grow when we choose to look and listen and explore.  It is with open minds and listening ears that we become more than ourselves.


Let me challenge you to open up the window of your mind a little more.  Build intentional relationships with people who are very different from you.  Read a book written by a writer with whom you may not agree.  Volunteer at a local non-profit and give yourself away.  Take a mission trip and explore how other people live.  It’s a choice.  Either we cloister ourselves away and never look beyond our own limited experiences or we create new and mind expanding ones.  Go. Risk. Immerse. Explore.